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Hudud and freedom of religion

MUCH has been said about hudud law. I take my hat off to Muslims who have come out openly to oppose its implementation. It must take a lot of courage to stand against conventional wisdom and religious teachings, and these people must be applauded.

However, that does not make me anti-hudud. On the contrary, I support the implementation of hudud law, subject to an important caveat.

(dcubillas /

(dcubillas /

In support of hudud

I support hudud law for two simple reasons.

One, for a number of Muslims, hudud is part and parcel of their faith, and implementing it is an exercise of religious freedom. When not implemented, these Muslims feel that their faith lacks a critical element. There is a sense of dissatisfaction that they cannot fully submit to God’s superior ways.

Secondly, and in Kelantan specifically, hudud is introduced by a government that has been upfront about its intentions, and yet consistently voted into office. It is part of an election promise, so to speak. And I am quite certain there was no electoral fraud in Kelantan favouring this particular government. Hudud in Kelantan, therefore, becomes an exercise of democratic right.


The one caveat that we need to impose on hudud, however, is that of religious freedom. Let’s face facts. Countless Muslims are born Muslims, with absolutely no say in the matter, and with no desire to be Muslims in truth. Yet many others became Muslims for reasons other than genuine conviction. A lot of them simply fell in love with a partner who similarly did not choose to be Muslim, but was born and designated as such.

Yet others have developed convictions that are contrary to Islam, and would prefer to leave the faith. Sure, they are most definitely doomed to eternal damnation, but surely we need not send them summarily to their eternal torment? Who knows, perhaps in their older and wiser years, they may even consider repentance.

Implement hudud by all means, but only if religion is permitted as an individual preference and not designated by law, and only if there is no need for people to declare their faith unless they desire to do so.

My caveat on religious freedom in hudud law, then, should apply to both Muslims and non-Muslims. What kind of reasoning is it when some non-Muslims say that hudud is fine as long as it is for Muslims only, and as long as non-Muslims have iron-clad guarantees it would not be implemented against them? Really, what kind of an attitude is that? If something is indeed so fine, why would you not want it for yourself? And if hudud is so terrible that you need iron-clad guarantees for yourself, why would you wish it on others?

After all, not all Muslims would like to be swept by the same broad brush. I am sure they, too, would like some iron-clad guarantees if they could. Are these Muslims to be sacrificed on the altar of hudud so that non-Muslims can be “safe”? That is a downright selfish position to adopt.

Human error

In the end, the biggest problem with implementing hudud is not the claim that it is God’s law, but His ardent supporters.

God is, after all, omniscient, and He knows who the thieves, adulterers and hopeless apostates are. God conveniently happens to be omnipotent as well. He therefore is more than able to effect any amputation or even impose the death penalty through both natural and unnatural means.

God’s ardent supporters, however, are a totally different breed. Despite their religious fervour, language and gear, they have quite a reputation for being imperfect. If you don’t believe me, go ask a Christian. He or she would be the first to admit and insist on telling you how inherently and hopelessly sinful you are.

Considering the imperfections of God’s people, any attempt to implement divine laws would clearly be tainted by human error. We don’t have a perfect process of investigation. Otherwise, we would not need to install grilles on windows to prevent accidental falls. We don’t have a perfect process to gather evidence. Hence, we need to steal DNA samples from face towels. And we most definitely don’t have a perfect judicial process.

But if a divine but humanly tainted law is what some people want, then let them have it. As long as my caveat on the individual’s freedom and privacy of religion is respected, I have no problems. Let those who have opted for hudud be subject to it. After all, to each their own.

Chan Kheng Hoe is a lawyer by profession.

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17 Responses to “Hudud and freedom of religion”

  1. Ida Bakar says:

    I am a Muslim and I oppose hudud in all its form in Malaysia. I believe that there should be one law, a secular one at that, for ALL Malaysians.

    I have a number of issues with the author of this article.

    Firstly, he/ she believe that hudud is ‘part and parcel of their faith’; and that a good Muslim must want hudud implemented. There is more to being a Muslim than the obsession with hudud. It is akin to saying those Muslimas who do not cover their heads are somehow lacking in their faith. The author assumes that (good) Malaysian Muslims are homogenous and therefore Islam itself must be monolithic. This is not the case even in conformist Malaysia.

    Next, the author produced a caveat that ‘…but only if religion is permitted as an individual preference and not designated by law…’ Malays, as the constitution goes, are Muslims and cannot be anything else. Malays cannot ‘un-Muslim’ themselves even if they wanted to. There is no such thing as individual preference for a religion. It is stamped on their MyKads and there is nothing a Muslim in this country can do about it. So, if hudud is voted in by Parliament, the Muslims in this country have no choice but to be subjected to it.

    Finally the author quibbled about the fallibility of the human being: ‘… Considering the imperfections of God’s people, any attempt to implement divine laws would clearly be tainted by human error…’ Laws should come about following consultation with those who are prominent in their field. For example, the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK in 1967 came about following a long-drawn-out discussion involving church leaders, sociologists, psychiatrists, lay people and homosexuals themselves. (We are still stuck with the amended buggery law of 1861!) Hudud looks into the medieval Islamic past. Enlightened and glorious though it was, it belongs in the past.

    • Good on you Ida! There is enough confusion with all the laws and regulations Umno has heaped on us! Including the Peaceful Assembly Bill.

      I would only agree with PAS to impose hudud if they promise on the Quran to firstly apply the hudud laws to all Umno members who have stolen from the country and peoples, not to mention the many injustices and murders committed in the name of “development”. […]

  2. JW Tan says:

    I’m against the implementation of hudud and don’t wish it on anyone. But I strongly support the right of anyone to live as they wish, within the strictures of their chosen religion, as long as their exercise of such rights does not interfere with my right.

    Therefore, one legal system for Muslims and another for non-Muslims is perfectly sound reasoning. One can choose which legal system one wishes to be subject to – simply by converting to whatever religion one wishes to follow.

  3. Farouq Omaro says:

    Agreed, hudud can be implemented on the condition that Muslims are free to leave Islam. However, leaving Islam to escape hudud laws after committing a crime must be rejected.

    • Kong Kek Kuat says:

      @ Farouq Omarosan

      So what amounts to “leave Islam”?

      Imagine me a temple-going Muslim on one of my drunken nights, with two married women (not my wives) on my left arm while driving with my right arm. I run over a stranger, and decide to rob him since he is unlikely to recognise me.

      Is hudud applicable to me?

      • Farouq Omaro says:

        As long as you are a Muslim you would be subject to hudud. That is why I said, to have hudud, first you must give the freedom to leave Islam. Leaving Islam means no longer being a Muslim officially. If you cannot leave Islam, then you are subjecting yourself to hudud. Understand?

        • Kong Kek Kuat says:

          @ Farouq Omarosan

          No, I don´t understand.

          In the example given in my previous comment, am I a Muslim?

          I´ll cut short this whole quiz by asking you this: Is a Muslim a Muslim because he [or she] is “called” one, or is he [or she] a Muslim because he [or she] practises Islam?

          I just committed a crime, but have I already left Islam?

          • koala says:

            Religion is a matter of the heart. To each his [or her] own conviction. You can label a person anything, but it will certainly not affect what he or she truly believes in. Unfortunately for us, in Malaysia, being Muslim is both a label and a faith. Many have “inherited” it without any understanding of it, and when time comes for laws to be implemented they will be subjected to it. It no longer has anything to do with how religious you really are.

            I believe what farouq wanted to say was that a person should be allowed to really, really choose their faith, i.e. with full knowledge of what they are subjecting themselves to before any laws can be passed on them.

            But this will raise another problem: in the eyes of the non-religious or secularists, there will be double standards. It’s really tricky, actually.

        • ala says:

          You don’t have to be scared of hudud as long as you didn’t commit sins or crimes. Hudud will actually protect your rights and others’ rights in many ways. Why would you care about leaving Islam and such if you’re not guilty… You need to study more about hudud, read trustworthy books written by recognized Islamic scholars .

  4. Adam says:

    Well, it seems like what is being suggested is a parallel system of civil and hudud laws, and everyone, whether Muslim or otherwise, should be able to choose under which law he/she wants to be tried under. Any potential lawbreaker would choose the system that makes it harder to prove guilt and is less severe in sentence. For example, a thief would choose civil law as it would be a fine or at most a jail sentence. Rapists would prefer hudud as there would not be four witnesses to prove guilt, and DNA/video evidence may not be admissible. For murder, hudud may be preferred as one could pay blood money to the victim’s next of kin in return for freedom.

    However, I do not think it is as simple as that. There would be a lot of confusion with people running to and fro between civil and hudud courts. Our present criminal civil system should be sufficient for all, including foreigners. Also, hudud might not apply to foreigners who appear to be Muslims but are not registered here. Another situation for people to ponder.

    In any case, before hudud could be considered, I agree that there should first be freedom of religion. Otherwise, it is unfair to those Muslims who think hudud is not Islamic and do not want it.

  5. C. Moloney says:

    I don’t believe in having two systems for one people, if we ever hope to be “one” people. I also certainly don’t believe that hudud will have no impact on the lives of non-Muslims. That is naive thinking at best. Our lives are too intertwined. The one thing I will agree to and support is freedom of religion. People should have the right to choose their own beliefs and I think one can pay no greater insult to God than to pretend to follow a faith when they don’t actually believe in it. I feel sorry for those who are forced into this situation. It is a gross violation of basic human rights.

  6. InnerVoice says:

    I am very particularly worried about what will happen after hudud law is implemented. What guarantee is there that non-Muslims would not be affected by it (PAS has said “don’t worry”) when overzealous Muslim enforcement agencies or tainted court judges decide to take a different course of action? Body snatching and conversion to Islam not make known to his/her matrimonial partner are examples that have caused many to suffer emotionally. Due to such unconstitutional and inconsistent practices, I will not give my support to hudud in any form it espouses, regardless of any individual who gives his/her guarantee. They are not God. In God I trust. Not in humans.

  7. Reza says:

    Of all the articles on religion that TNG has published, I must say that this one resonates with me the most. As a non-religious liberal who was born into religious slavery just because my father is a Muslim, there is no other issue I feel more strongly about than religious liberation. Unfortunately, this is an issue which is championed by neither political parties in this country, and won’t be for a very long time or ever by the look of things.

    This much is clear from the public outcry by many Malaysian Muslims over the alleged DUMC proselytization incident, leading to anti-apostasy rallies and other measures to remind Muslims of their religious bondage. Even if there was any proselytization being conducted, in a truly free country, it wouldn’t matter. It shouldn’t matter.

    I really find it puzzling as to how many Malaysian Muslims think that its acceptable to curtail the freedom of others just to maintain their own religious self-interests. I wonder where they got the notion that religion is not a matter of personal choice. It certainly wasn’t from the Quran, which clearly states that there should be no compulsion in religion. This is most likely the result of brainwashing by overzealous religious authorities who will go to any lengths to maintain the status quo or bumiputera dominance, including twisting religious doctrine. Unfortunately, many Malaysian Muslims follow these so-called authorities like sheep as they have been brow-beaten into obedience over the years.

    This ties in with another issue, which is the economic stagnation of Malaysian Malays that has resulted in the prolonged reliance on the NEP. Both issues share the same root cause, which is the renowned intellectual laziness among Malaysian Malays. Of all the cultures in Malaysia, the Malays are the least to encourage independent thought. They are always told to be obedient to their parents, religious authorities, etc. Questioning authority or the status quo is frowned upon in Malay culture.

    • Reza says:

      (Continued from previous post)

      If the Malays are going to move forward, both socially and economically, they will have to dispose of this crippling attitude of entitlement and intellectual servitude. Only when they learn to question the religious authorities’ decrees and learn what the real Islam is actually about will we be able to resolve the issues of hudud implementation and religious freedom.

  8. ellese says:

    Hudud must be applicable to both Muslims and non-Muslims, otherwise it creates a great injustice. Islamic traditions for hundreds of years and current practices show that hudud applies to all. It’s a criminal sanction. I believe by having two different punishments for the same criminal act will only smear and jeopardise Islam in the end. These political shenanigans must cease.

    • koala says:

      In that case, let there be no hudud law.

    • JW Tan says:

      On the contrary, the injustice arises if it is applicable to all. By definition, non-Muslims do not believe in the legal system and principles underlying hudud. Why impose it on them? It smacks of forced conversion.

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